Our Lingua Franca: The Importance of Learning a New Language as a Tool for Writing

Globes of various sizes sit on a desk.
“Globe Collection” by João Silas

In an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, it is more important now than ever that we learn to develop a common tongue. There is no greater area for this than in literature. However, many writers tend to speak only in their own language when weaving their stories. I believe that this is limiting and ultimately detrimental. If you truly want to grow as a writer and have your work reach the widest number of people, I strongly recommend that you study at least one other language.

As any student of language knows, it is an extremely intimidating endeavor to step outside of one’s linguistic comfort zone. A new mode of grammar, a cryptic alphabet, and a challenging writing system—all of these are formidable obstacles. However, the greatest reward for a writer can be found in the phrases and stories that are specific to certain cultures.

For example, let us delve into the Russian language. Many Russian idioms are visually descriptive and oftentimes have an entertaining meaning. Here are two particularly interesting ones: Вешать лапшу на уши (which literally means ‘to hang noodles on one’s ears’) and Очки втирать (‘to smear eyeglasses’). Both of these phrases deal with lying or speaking nonsense, in a way that is new and unfamiliar to a non-native speaker. In exploring and learning different languages, we come across many phrases such as these that can add some spice and variety to our writing by simply changing our perspective.

In addition to idioms, many languages also bring with them a rich bounty of stories usually related to a cultural heritage. Russia, in particular, is a country that is well known for the unique figures of its folklore and mythology: the fearsome Baba Yaga, the devilish Chernabog, the bright and shining Zorya sisters, and the merry Father Frost are only a handful. When it comes to creating the setting (backbone) of a story, some of the best writers draw their inspiration from a variety of cultures. If you dedicate yourself to learning a language, you will be able to draw from and contribute to their stories in an ethical and enjoyable way for all parties.

As writers, our primary goal is not only to tell a good story but to do so in a ‘lingua franca’—a language that is commonly used as common ground between two speakers with different native tongues. Your books, poetry, poems, and music may reach further across the world than you think and, if that is the case, you want it to be in a language and voice that is accessible and enjoyable for everyone. To that end, I encourage you to write a piece that reaches out to someone in their own language and culture. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll reach out and do the same.

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Literary Analysis and Discovery

Many of us are familiar with literary analysis. Maybe some of us even loath writing literary analysis. I can sympathize with that feeling. After all, literary analysis seems to be an ephemeral exercise in asserting a personal opinion which most likely doesn’t align with the reason for an author writing a work. I was on this side of the fence for a long time. At this point, you may be asking why I’m an English major if I feel this way, but that’s a story for another time. People change, and my feelings for literary analysis have shifted. Writing literary analysis has become a personal journey of discovery, but how did I come to this way of thinking?

First, I think it is necessary to examine how I approached writing literary analysis before I thought of it as a journey of discovery. If this was before. I would simply read a work and immediately have a conclusion about the meaning of the story. Then, I would write a paper based on my assumption of what the story means by finding passages which coincided with what I believed. And after finding a million passages, my paper would be complete with me not having learned much or really feeling all that accomplished.

Compare this to my approach to literary analysis now. The first difference would be my initial assumption after finishing a work. I try not to have a knee jerk reaction to the meaning of a work. This forces me to go back through the work and find common themes, motifs, symbols, and other literary techniques the author employed and examine them. By examining these techniques, a pattern is revealed. This is much different than my previous technique were I was attempting to force my own, knee jerk reaction onto the work. Doing this, you can look at literary analysis as a journey of discovery where little bits of a path are revealed until you come to the end.

I think this approach to literary analysis has given me a new appreciation for it, and honestly, it makes literary analysis so much more enjoyable. Before approaching literary analysis in this way, I would loath writing papers. Those papers almost seem combative or argumentative, trying to force the reader into believing me. Now, my papers act as a guide to the reader. I think using this method for literary analysis is much more true to the purpose of an author as well. Most authors purposely leave little remnants and literary techniques scattered throughout their works. Going back after an author and discovering these remnants makes for not only a more interesting process for writing, but also a way for you to discover what a work means to you personally. And while I think literary analysis is academically important, it can also reveal your thoughts and opinions on important subjects, which is why books are so vital in a society where it is hard to find who you are.